the last surviving vessel of the Spanish-American War and an icon of the Philadelphia waterfront for more than 50 years — is looking for a new caretaker and will be hosting candidates at a summit to be held from March 30 to April 1.
Forty people representing dozens of organizations, including historic preservationists and prospective stewards from across the country, plan to attend the event, said officials at the Independence Seaport Museum, the ship’s current caretaker.
Some have expressed an interest in taking over the ship, but they must be qualified as nonprofits and financially able to pay for the $2 million to $5 million of work to immediately stabilize the deteriorating warship.
Another $10 million to $20 million will be required for dry dock and restoration.
The summit “is a sharing process to preserve history,” Capt. John J. Gazzola, president and chief executive officer of the Independence Seaport Museum, said in an interview Monday. “We wouldn’t need a summit if there weren’t interested parties.
“We would like to see the successful transfer of stewardship from the museum to another responsible organization.”
New benefactors will be required to submit a letter of intent and executive summary application by Sept. 1, followed by business/financial and environmental plans by April 1, 2012. A mooring, towing, maintenance, and curatorial plan must be submitted by Nov. 1, 2012.
The museum is expecting letters of intent but will be even more interested in the submission of viable financial plans next year.
“If no one steps up, we may have to look at other options,” said Jesse Lebovics, manager of the Olympia and submarine Becuna for the museum. “We may have to go down a destructive path.”
Lebovics said that could involve the scrapping or reefing of the Olympia. But he and other museum officials say they hope it never comes to that.
“No one wants to see the Olympia in this crisis again,” Lebovics said. “This is the greatest progress we’ve made to date. We now have a methodology to solve the Olympia problem.”
One of the organizations that would like to take over the Olympia is the Friends of the Cruiser Olympia, which recently approved $10,000 for some emergency hull repairs and would consider spending an additional $100,000 to prepare the ship for its transfer to dry dock.
Bruce Harris, executive director of the group, which has been trying to raise $5 million for the restoration, said he would meet Tuesday “with interested parties” in Washington to discuss formation of a coalition to apply for transfer of stewardship.
“Our group wants to keep her in Philly and turn her into an independent museum, after dry-docking and refitting,” said Harris. “She would be part of the renaissance of the Philadelphia waterfront. We think Olympia is in a great spot. ”
The Olympia is best known for its role at the Battle of Manila Bay, when Commodore George Dewey stood on the bridge and uttered the famous words, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley,” to Capt. Charles Gridley.
The ship spent World War I in the Atlantic Ocean and later brought home the remains of the Unknown Soldier from France in 1921.